Saturday, October 2, 2010
This morning the whole family headed downtown to watch me participate in Round 2 of the Aetna Healthy Food Fight. I was only the tiniest bit nervous and mostly just excited to get going. When we arrived on the plaza outside the new Grand Hyatt in San Antonio (a really beautiful hotel, by the way), the kitchen stations were all set up and there were a few people milling around. As I’d suspected, “Be there by 9:30″ was really code for “Don’t be late for your 10:00 time slot.” But I’m never late for anything, and if you tell me to be there at 9:30, I’ll be there at 9:25. It’s just how I’m built.
So, we waited. Luckily, it was a beautiful morning to be outside. The kids enjoyed lounging around in an enormous wicker chair on the Hyatt’s outdoor patio while I chatted with two other contestants, both of whom were scheduled for the 12:00 time slot and thus put my supposed punctuality to shame. One of them had brought her own fresh vegetables from her garden in Louisiana. There were no rules prohibiting this, but the Food Fight staff provided all the food as part of the competition and I just assumed that whatever they bought for me would be fine, since the veggies would be cut up and bathed in cheese sauce.
Before too long, more members of the event staff trickled in and I was assigned a kitchen station, given an official Food Fight apron, taken into the “pantry” area to select my cookware and make sure my ingredient tray looked correct, then shown how to use the induction cook top and convection oven. Frank, the kitchen guru, told me that the burners would cook faster than what I was used to and the oven would cook slower than what I was used to. I’d had a dream last night in which I’d forgotten to pre-heat the oven, so I did that the minute Frank showed me how to turn it on.
Then we got started: the emcee gave us an official countdown to kick off the competition and I got busy chopping. I was relieved to discover that the frozen corn and spinach my Veggie Enchilada recipe calls for was already thawed, so I wouldn’t have to deal with that. Also, having things like flour and coriander pre-measured into prep bowls helped a lot. (I re-measured as I went along, since the event staff told me they’d measured hastily as they were prepping trays and I should definitely check my amounts.) In no time I had the onion and garlic ready to get in the sauté pan. The red peppers joined them shortly afterward. I was well ahead of schedule and, as a result, feeling pretty calm.
A small crowd gathered around my cooking station, including a few of the judges, probably drawn there by the smell of sautéing garlic and onions. One asked “Is that legal in San Antonio, Veggie Enchiladas? Aren’t you required by law to include beef or chicken or something?” At this point, The Girl (who was officially tasked with taking the photographs you see here) informed him that I do, in fact, make Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas sometimes, but that she prefers the veggie version.
While I mixed together my sour cream sauce, I chatted with Karen. She and her husband Walter are from Seattle and just lucked into being in San Antonio for a conference while the food fight was going on. “This is like seeing Food Network in person,” Karen said, though Walter later observed that it was better than Food Network because he could smell the food as it was being prepared. Throughout the competition I chatted with the emcee when he stopped by my station, telling him a little about what I was doing and how I planned to put everything together.
At 10:40, I had a pan of enchiladas in the (pre-heated!) oven and breathed a sigh of relief while I chopped some of the remaining red pepper for a garnish. At 10:45, however, I spotted the can of cooking spray on my station and realized that I’d forgotten to spray the pan before I loaded it up. I had visions of my enchiladas sticking to the pan, falling apart when I tried to plate them. The horror, the horror! When I checked on the pan, though, nothing looked like it was going awry. Perhaps the pan was new enough that the non-stick coating was still doing the job on its own. I did notice that two of the enchiladas were getting a little toasty on one edge, so I flipped the pan around in the oven. Ten minutes later, when I checked again, the sauce was nice and bubbly and had browned across the top. Ahead of schedule, but the dish was clearly ready to go. I signaled Frank, which brought the presentation plates (and the Express-News photographer) to my station.
Five of the enchiladas went on a large presentation plate; the other five went on separate tasting plates for the judges. I was the first contestant to walk my presentation plate over to the judging station, enjoying the applause of the audience as I went. I smiled, told them they were in for a yummy treat, then turned around to hug my kids. “Those enchiladas smell amazing,” Walter said, and I thanked him for the words of encouragement. “If you see me on Food Network in the finale, you can tell your friends ‘That’s the enchilada lady from San Antonio! We’re on her blog!’” I said.
In the mother of all ironies, I walked away from my healthy enchiladas to have cheeseburgers at Hard Rock Café with my family. But we did spend a good bit of time downtown, just walking around and enjoying the afternoon together, so perhaps that balances everything out. What I know for sure is that I’m glad I submitted my recipe to the Healthy Food Fight, and I’m glad I was brave enough to complete in Round 2, and I’m really glad I got to keep that Food Fight apron. Even if I don’t make it to the final round, I feel like a winner in all kinds of ways.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Every once in awhile, even an organized person like me finds herself getting derailed. After the excitement of finding out that I’d been selected for Round 2 of the Healthy Food Fight, I found myself coming down with the crud that’s been plaguing my family for weeks. Monday, I mostly ignored it in the hope that it would go away. Tuesday, I endured it because I had to give an exam. But by Wednesday morning, I had to admit that going in to work just wasn’t an option if I wanted to be able to cook this weekend.
I stayed home, stayed immobile–and today, I felt marginally improved. Naturally, that means I started cooking again.
I wanted to give my Veggie Enchilada recipe a test run before Saturday morning, so I chopped and shredded and stuffed tortillas. I’ll be a little pressed for time, but I discovered this evening that it is indeed possible to have enchiladas plated and ready to eat in 90 minutes. Fortunately, my cooking time is first thing in the morning, which is when I have the most energy–perhaps I’ll be moving a little faster at 10 a.m. than I was at 5:00, after a full day of work. (Call me crazy. I think it’s possible.) The challenge will be making them pretty, since enchiladas aren’t exactly picturesque. I’ll do my best to earn those presentation points, but I’m not making any promises. And I should make up for that in taste, since both The Girl and The Hubs swooned at first bite. “I didn’t remember them being this good,” The Girl said.
Of course, there will be life after the food fight. This weekend I’m planning to make a super-simple Apple Custard Pie, one of my favorite fall recipes from the early days of my marriage. Back when The Hubs didn’t know it was possible to make brownies without a mix. (I’m not making that up.) Even if you’re not a fan of plain yogurt, I think you’ll like this recipe; there’s just enough sugar to offset the tartness. If you don’t trust my judgment, use sour cream instead. More calories, but hey. It’s pie. Calories are part of the bargain.
Apple Custard Pie
1 9-inch pie crust, pre-baked
2 cups peeled, sliced apples (any variety except Red Delicious)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
Spread the apple slices evenly across the bottom of the pie crust. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until foamy; stir in the yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Pour this mixture over the apples.
Bake the pie at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the custard is firm when jiggled.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
I found out today that my recipe for Veggie Enchiladas has made it Round 2 of the Aetna Healthy Food Fight. I entered at the suggestion of a foodie friend who found my blog on Food Buzz, not really thinking I’d end up in the next round–San Antonio is a huge foodie city, after all. But here I am, headed to the Grand Hyatt to cook for a panel of judges next weekend. Keep your fingers (and all other crossable appendages) in the good luck position!
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Not long after The Hubs and I were first married, we decided to put together a cookbook of favorite recipes. We sent out letters asking our far-flung family members to send in their favorite contributions, and we asked some of our closest friends to contribute as well. It seemed like a good way to pull together all the people we loved best in the world, not to mention preserving some of the recipes we remembered from our respective childhoods.
The cookbook is showing its age—not only because the pages are splattered with who knows what, but also because it’s the product of circa-1990 word processing technology. We made the cover with stencils and a Sharpie marker. We made the pages dividing the sections using those same implements. My original word processor (a Kaypro 2) had only once choice of font, so the pages look like they’ve been typed in Courier. Which they were, except my super-speedy daisy wheel printer did the typing on its own. That process took a mere three days.
We’ve been giving some thought to putting together a new cookbook, now that some of the children represented in the old one have children of their own. But I have to confess that I love the old one, corny and beaten up as it is. I love looking at some of the recipes submitted by The Hubs’ beloved grandma (and remembering that the recipe for her Cream Puffs originally arrived as a list of ingredients followed by the instruction “Put dough in pan.” We had to ask for some elaboration, and she seemed mystified by what we didn’t understand.) I love remembering that, when our friend Julie Waddle sent in her recipe for a cheese ball, she wrote “‘Cheese Ball’ seems like such a boring name—feel free to rename it if you want.” So we did. We named it Waddle Ball.
The old cookbook is full of memories like that—and recipes like this one, for My Mom’s Banana Bread. My only changes to her original are that I add a teaspoon of vanilla and, instead of using 3 tablespoons of sour milk, I use ¼ cup sour cream. I do this only because when I put vinegar or lemon juice in the milk to make it sour, I swear I can taste the vinegar or lemon juice in the finished product. (Probably psychological, but that doesn’t really matter—either way, I taste it.) Other than that, there’s no point in messing with perfection.
My Mom's Banana Bread
3 very ripe bananas
¼ cup sour cream
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, mash the bananas. Stir in the sour cream, sugar, and butter. Add the eggs and vanilla; mix well and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture slowly, stirring between additions.
Pour the batter into a greased tube pan and bake for 1 hour.
Friday, September 24, 2010
It’s been a hectic week. You may have noticed that I missed my usual Tuesday evening post, for which I apologize. I hope you all managed to find something to eat for dinner without my input. Tuesday evening was spent frantically grading papers that had to go back to their authors on Wednesday. The following evening was spent decompressing from the anxiety of the previous day. Today, finally, there was time to return to thoughts about the really important things in life.
Things like: what am I going to make for dinner?
Several people have told me how much they enjoyed the King Ranch Chicken recipe I posted last week. I was craving something like that tonight, but I had no tortillas on hand (and no interest in running to the grocery store, after fighting the late-day traffic twice. Both of my kids had to stay after school today. Tutoring, club meetings—the ways to throw a wrench in our usually well-oiled schedule are without number.) I did, however, have a can of diced green chilies, some chicken, some cheese, and several boxes of pasta. A recipe began to take shape in the fantasy world of my foodie brain. Not exactly King Ranch, but something pretty close. I grabbed a box of penne pasta and got to work.
I was able to mix up Chicken and Green Chili Pasta in approximately fifteen minutes. I know this because Barilla pasta takes ten minutes to cook. Add in a few minutes for bringing the water to a boil, a few more for draining and mixing the pasta with the sauce, a few seconds to plate up the finished product, and you have dinner in record time. (I did have backup from a designated cheese grater; if you’ll be grating your own, add two minutes to the prep time. Seriously, that’s all it takes. I’ve timed myself. I take my job as a Foodie very seriously.) The Girl said “This is so good! It tastes like queso with pasta.” I told her I’d thought about using a can of Ro-tel tomatoes and chilies in place of the diced green chilies, and she said “No way. This is nice and creamy. I like queso with pasta.” Mr. Picky was less enthusiastic (of course), but he ate his dinner without complaint. That in itself is a measure of success.
Chicken and Green Chili Pasta
1 lb. pasta
4 T. butter
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 can evaporated milk
½ cup nonfat milk
3 chicken bouillion cubes
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilies
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
1 ½ cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of Jack and cheddar)
Fill a large pot with water and set it on the stove. While it comes to a boil, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, a little at a time, until you have a very thick paste. Whisk in the garlic powder. Let this mixture bubble together over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the pasta to the water when it comes to a boil and stir.
Back to the sauce: whisk in the evaporated milk and nonfat milk until you have a smooth and very thick mixture. Add the bouillion cubes and leave the sauce alone until they dissolve. At this point, evaluate the consistency of your sauce; if you'd like it thinner, add more milk. Remember that you'll be adding the cheese in a moment, which will make the sauce a little thicker than it is. I like the sauce to stick to the pasta, but you may want something on the thinner side.
Stir in the can of green chilies (including their juice) and the chicken. Let this mixture sit on the heat for a few minutes, so the juice from the chilies has some time to mingle with the sauce and the chicken warms through. Finally, take the pan off the heat and stir in the cheese until it's melted.
Drain the pasta. Toss it with the sauce in a large bowl (or right in the saucepan, if it's large enough) and serve immediately.